If the latest projections are accurate, Hurricane Irma's devastating eyewall won't hit Miami's downtown, urban core. Since this morning, the models have shifted west and suggest the heart of the storm is more likely to nail the Southwest Florida coast after plowing straight over the Florida Keys.
But the latest Hurricane Irma advisory from the National Hurricane Center otherwise doesn't include a ton of great news for Florida. Frighteningly, Irma is so unbelievably large that the "dirty" East side of the storm will still probably pummel Miami with major hurricane-force winds — and it's still possible the storm could strengthen again before hitting the Keys. Wind gusts in Miami could still reach more than 100 mph from Sunday through Monday, and meteorologists warn Miami could experience Category One- through Four-level wind gusts even if the more westward track holds out.
The storm is now expected to slide up the northern Cuban coastline, over mountains that many hope will break up the storm. But the NHC says the storm is not likely to lose much power over the island.
"The environment is favorable for Irma to maintain its category 4 status, and only unpredictable eyewall replacement cycles could result in intensity fluctuations during the next 48 hours," the NHC wrote. "The interaction of the hurricane's circulation with Cuba will probably not result in any relevant change in intensity. In summary, the NHC forecast brings Irma near south Florida as a category 4 hurricane. After landfall, interaction with land and an increase in wind shear should induce gradual weakening."
Importantly, Miami is still within the NHC's "cone of concern," and the Center warns that the storm will bring major winds to Miami no matter where the storm lands. For now, South Floridians are left waiting to see when the storm turns north. In the meantime, the NHC extended its hurricane warning up the East Coast to Sebastian Inlet, and up the West Coast to the Suwannee River.
Whether the storm shifts closer to the south-central tip of the peninsula or more toward Naples, it's expected to slam right into some portion of the Florida Keys. In addition to major storm surges, the Keys are projected to receive an extra 20 inches of rain.
"There is the danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation in southern Florida and the Florida Keys during the next 36 hours, where a Storm Surge Warning is in effect," the latest NHC advisory says. "The threat of significant storm surge flooding along the southwest coast of Florida has increased, and 8 to 12 feet of inundation above ground level is possible in this area. This is a life-threatening situation. Everyone in these areas should take all actions to protect life and property from rising water and follow evacuation instructions from local officials."
For now, it remains to be seen how deeply Irma interacts with the Cuban coast: The latest afternoon Hurricane models show the storm floating over the island to varying degrees:
12z Euro slams Irma into Cuba. This would help to weaken it some before reemerging south of the keys and regaining some strength. pic.twitter.com/zekBFeVgRr— The Weatherhog (@thewxhog) September 8, 2017
Florida officials warn that the peninsula will start feeling the storm's impacts as early as tomorrow morning — it's best to do all you can to make sure you're in a safe spot by the end of tonight.
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